Importance of Greek Burial

The Importance of Burial in Greek Religion For the most part, the Greeks did not believe in a different afterlife for the good or bad—i. e. , no heaven or hell. In their view, the afterlife was almost universally grim; the important detail for the dead was whether they were buried or unburied. Those who did not receive proper funeral rites were doomed to wander by the river Styx, the entrance to the Underworld, for eternity; their souls could never be at rest.

Thus, denying burial to a corpse not only insulted the body, but also damned his soul for all time. The buried were granted access to Hades, the name of both the Underworld and its king (who was also known as Pluto). In order for the dead to gain this access, a complicated ritual had to be performed. There were few ‘professional’ undertakers, so a man’s funeral fell to his family, especially the women of the family.

They prepared the body for cremation, oversaw the collection of the bones and ashes and burial of the urn, provided the tomb with liquid offerings (libations), and led the mourning, a loud and violent process in which women tore their cheeks with their fingernails, ripped out their hair, and poured dirt over the heads and clothing. Mourning the dead was one of the few things women were allowed to do in ancient Greece, especially Athens. Women of well-born families were expected to stay at home in specially designated women’s quarters at all times except during certain religions festivals.

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